I’ve attended many different yoga classes and centres, but the Moscow yoga scene has left a lasting impression on me. Although the capital boasts a wide variety of yoga styles taught by experienced practitioners, Moscow’s yoga movement provides exceptional classes in Ashtanga Vinayasa. There are around 10 Ashtanga teachers in Moscow who have received authorisation to teach the Ashtanga method from the Sri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute (KPJAYI) in Mysore, India. Very few Ashtanga practitioners in the world have received this authorisation, which is widely considered to be one of the most extensive and difficult approvals to gain. It requires years of continuous dedication and, even then, it is only awarded upon the personal satisfaction of the KPJAYI owners.
The lineage of the KPJAYI originates three generations back, to Pattabhi Jois, who developed and revived the Ashtanga method after extensively studying ancient Sanskrit Yoga texts with his guru, Krishnyamacharya, in the early 20th century. The KPJAYI system of offering certain Ashtanga practitioners a personal blessing to teach is a means of ensuring the preservation and protection of the method, in a society where such knowledge can be easily lost, distorted, and corrupted. Although there are many Ashtanga Yoga centres worth exploring in Moscow, I will give a brief overview of my two most frequented.
Yoga 108, Kitai-Gorod
This is a Yoga shala that I attended on a twice-weekly basis. Tucked away inside is a counter where you can find vegetarian and organic produce, as well as plenty of Yoga resources to assist your practice, along with an impressive array of herbal teas. The items displayed inside the shala give the centre a strong sense of the organic, and this is further enhanced by its atmosphere. The cushioned waiting area outside the Yoga room is the perfect layout to welcome dialogue between students of the shala – a social element which many other centres lack. Traditionally, the Ashtanga practice is opened and closed by collectively chanting in the ancient Indian tongue, Sanskrit, following the lead of the Yoga teacher. Unfortunately, many centres in the UK stray from this tradition. My Russian teacher, Masha Pankratova, however, always begins and ends her classes with this custom. This sets the tone for the session and shows the teacher’s commitment to keeping the practice as close to its roots as possible. In addition to this, the chants are a fantastic way to feel connected to the strangers around you, as everybody is united by demonstrating a certain degree of commitment to the traditional Ashtanga method.
Yoga 108, metro Mayakovskaya
Another branch of Yoga 108, this well-frequented shala offers a larger space with multiple rooms for practice. In a similar fashion to the Kitai-Gorod centre, this instructor opened with a dialogue, which I particularly enjoyed. We started the session with a relaxed talk about the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa, and individually invited everybody to introduce themselves. The teacher spoke with great humility, and without distinguishing herself from the rest of the people in the room – everybody was of an equal standing, and a feeling of inter-connectedness was established. The teachers of this shala also open and close the practice with the Ashtanga chants.
I had the good fortune of tasting Ashtanga and Hatha Yoga classes in several different Yoga centres, each exuding a vibe of authenticity and dedication to the practice’s ancient Indian roots. This authenticity is arguably more difficult to find the further West one travels. However, the 10 KPJAYI authorised Ashtanga teachers in Moscow ensured the preservation of the method.
Whilst I was in Moscow, I couldn’t quite pinpoint the reason why, but I had a relentless urge to keep returning to the shalas. It was as though they were filling a gap in my life that I didn’t even realise I had. Looking back, I now understand that it was marking the beginning of a change in the way I connected with myself and therefore the world. These Moscow shalas provided an honest, non-commercialised space away from the commotion of modern-day society. No politics, no pressure, no hidden agenda – just a group of humans who are committed to shifting people’s conscious patterns, all through the simple practice of Yoga.
Image by Vanessa Ramkissoon